Emma Highwood. Source: ffa.com.au

Emma Highwood, The Head of Community, Football Development and Women’s Football at Football Federation Australia, announced today that she would be leaving the organisation after ten years.

Highwood, the most senior woman employed by FFA, has been at the heart of growing football in Australia over the past decade, with a particular focus on grassroots and women’s football.

Her resignation comes at a significant time for Australian football after FFA relinquished control of the A-League, W-League, and Y-League, meaning the organisation will now only be responsible for grassroots and national teams.

“The anticipated restructure of the leagues presents the ideal time for me to leave FFA and to pursue new challenges and opportunities,” Highwood said.

“I am proud of the outcomes we have been able to deliver in an often-complex stakeholder environment and with tight resources. There is a real opportunity now for the game to pull together and align under a new governance structure and I wish the FFA Board and stakeholders all the best as they move into this new era for Football.”

Highwood’s work over the course of her FFA tenure has been far-reaching.

She oversaw an overall increase in participation in football around the country, particularly in the ALDI MiniRoos program, which has grown from 170,000 to 230,000 participants.

She facilitated the rapid growth of women’s football, including raising the profile of the Westfield Matildas, and was a major part of the first Collective Bargaining Agreement for the Westfield W-League, which recently delivered gender equality in minimum pay and conditions with the A-League.

She oversaw changes in the player development pathway, including the development and implementation of A-League Club Academies, and helped revitalise the state-based National Premier Leagues around the country.

Finally, she led the roll-out of the first digital registration system for grassroots football (MyFootballClub), which has revolutionised the way FFA and the game engages with participants.

The loss of Highwood, following the temporary medical leave of Board Director Heather Reid, means that there is just one woman left in a senior executive position at FFA: Kelly Barin Rosmarin.

With the organisation about to begin a new chapter following the league restructure, the lack of women in key positions moving forward is concerning.

How much influence the newly-formed Women’s Council will have in shaping the future direction of FFA is still unclear.

With interest in women’s football increasing around the world following the success of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the organisation ought to recruit advocates of the women’s game who have expert knowledge of the product and can maximise investment opportunities.

The fact that there are no women rumoured to be in the running to take over from CEO David Gallop, who also announced his resignation this month, is telling.

FFA would do well to use this new start to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality by pursuing 50/50 gender representation at executive level, and to ensure that the women’s game has an equal opportunity to flourish in Australia.

Samantha is a writer and social media manager for Beyond 90. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Optus Sport, matildas.com.au, Inside Sport, and The Women's Game. She's spent years covering the Matildas, W-League, NWSL, and NPLW, as well as a variety of other topics including the World Cup, Iran's stadium ban, and the history of Australian women's football.